At the Film Acting Academy of Denver we don’t believe in making choices or creating a character. Frankly, we think that gets in the way of connecting to your scene partner and truly listening to them. We believe that if you’ve been cast, it is because you already are the character. We believe the work of the actor is to surrender to the environment, commit to the situation, and to let the words have meaning. Then all your emotional responses will be honest, true, and “in the moment.” Confident directors prefer that over manufactured emotions and fake moments. So, too, do audiences.
For many actors, the struggle is to have the confidence that doing “less” will be enough. We remind actors that the other film elements like lighting, frame composition, editing, music, and sound design do much of the emotional heavy lifting for the audience. That’s why great actors leave a scene saying “I hope I didn’t too much” while inexperienced actors often leave a scene saying, “I wish I had done more.”
We’re not suggesting that you don’t need to find a connection with the character. In fact, we encourage it. We just think the connection comes from committing to the situation – not the details, mind you, because we think details aren’t all that important, either – but the emotional underpinnings of a situation that carry with them universal truths. If a character is dealing with the loss of a child, for example, one doesn’t need to imagine what that would feel like if they have never had to suffer through something as awful as that. Everyone has suffered some kind of loss. Our emotional reservoir doesn’t forget. Let the words have meaning and you will feel that loss. Surrender to the conflict and accept the emotional stakes of the situation without prejudice or bias and the film actor is on his or her way to responding in a very raw and honest way to whatever comes their way. When those moments happen, the director can usually be heard saying to the DP: “Please tell me you got that.”
Perhaps William H. Macy, while accepting the Vanguard Award at the Boulder International Film Festival, said it best: “You have to embrace the dilemma of the character.”
Okay, that’s a better way of putting. And, yes, it really is that simple.
Hope to see you on the big screen soon.